Scientists and survivors working together

CURE magazine invited cancer survivor Jasan Zimmerman to share his experience from the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.I wasn't sure what to expect when I looked through the schedule for the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, except that it was going to be a busy time. That was an understatement. I participated as a survivor advocate in the 12th Annual Scientist-Survivor Program (SSP), where we were placed into working groups with other advocates and scientific mentors. The scientists helped us understand the basic science of cancer research and the current and future trends. The survivor advocates, in turn, provided the researchers with an understanding of the personal impact cancer has had on us and our loved ones. Survivor advocates were able to attend special interest sessions given by scientists, in layman's terms, to prepare us for attending the scientific sessions. I pored over the dictionary-thick conference program, taking note of the sessions that interested me, and then tried to fit them in with the SSP special interest sessions. It was like putting together a huge puzzle, but I ended up with a schedule that was full from early in the morning to late in the evening. I suffered more and more from information overload as the days went on. For example, in my notes for the nanotechnology session, I wrote, "nanotechnology=lots of cool stuff."Some of the topics that interested me were The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and metronomics. TCGA is a coordinated effort to understand the molecular basis of cancer by sequencing and analyzing cancer genomes. The technology is evolving rapidly to help make sense of the incredible amount of data being generated. The hope is that in the future, data from TCGA will be used to determine molecular subtypes of tumors instead of grouping them according to their organ site. Molecular subtypes, along with specific tumor genotyping, can be used to determine personalized treatment for patients. Metronomic chemotherapy is a way to administer chemotherapy at the lowest effective dose on a regular basis for a prolonged period of time instead of higher doses that often require long breaks between treatments. The breaks between treatments of high dose, traditional chemotherapy allow for selection of chemotherapy-resistant cells, while lower doses administered more often can block this selection. I've never had chemotherapy, but low-dose, more frequent chemotherapy that's less toxic seems like a benefit to patients. An important theme of the conference was collaboration. Bio-physicists working with cancer biologists, clinicians working with research scientists, and survivor advocates working with clinical and basic science researchers were all highlighted. Each person offers a different way to look at the research so novel ideas can be implemented and the research can be kept current. Meeting and speaking with so many diverse advocates was one of the highlights of the program for me. Seeing how hard everybody is working for their respective constituencies was inspiring and made me want to work harder as an advocate. Learning about the cutting-edge research and the plans for the future was exciting and drove home the importance of research and research advocacy. I'm gratified to know that so many brilliant researchers have dedicated their careers to understanding and treating the disease that has impacted my life so significantly. Jasan Zimmerman is a three-time cancer survivor (neuroblastoma at six months, thyroid cancer at 15, and a recurrence of the thyroid cancer at 21). Iin addition to writing and speaking about his lifetime of cancer experiences, he's also a Super Advocate for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, a member of the Leadership Council for Cancer Support Community Silicon Valley, and on the Board of Advisors of Yoga Bear. You can also read his Readers' Forum essay in CURE, "What Do I Tell Her?"Jasan Zimmerman presents his Scientist-Survivor presentation to other advocates at AACR.